|UNHACKABLE HEART: Glenn -- Burn down the house|
Glenn pointed in the moonlight, pointed due west. “There was a house about a mile from here. The owners had it burnt down when they passed on, instead of passing it to their kids. It was rumored to be haunted. That happened right before you moved into this area. I’ve seen you there on that property, digging up flowers in the spring. The haunting spread over to this house, the next one in line.”
He shook his head. “It won’t work to burn down the house. For you, Tessa, if that would work then I would agree and set fire to it now. That won’t get rid of this hardcore bump in the darkness. Destroy the cave? Silly woman, do you think I have C4 up at Haven or at my house? Why trap them all on this side to spread out farther and seep into the next house several miles from here?”
“Did it occur to you maybe I can do it without asking for your assistance?”
One of his friends who regularly hunted ghosts with Glenn laughed before saying, “I got the evidence for tonight. It occurs to me like you might have your hands kinda full.” He waved as he walked off.
Cole walked over to them, keeping one hand tucked up under his other arm. He shook his head. “That primate demon shadow in there has claws. It scratched my hand when it knocked out the tape recorder.” He lifted his arm and showed Glenn the four ugly red scratches running up four fingers.
“See,” Tessa said. “Way too dangerous, Glenn. He’ll probably turn into a werewolf at the next moon.”
Paul snorted and then nodded at Cole. “Come with me. I have something for that.”
Tessa pointed at the house as ghost hunters headed toward their vehicles. “It’s my house. It’s not your call. I know I said let’s, but it’s not your choice. This isn’t a poll.”
Glenn crossed his arms over his chest and notched one brow at her. “This is not your area of expertise. If this was sneaking past corporate firewalls and you said what would be the best way to break in, then I would listen to your wisdom. You think to destroy a cave all by yourself?”
“I don’t need you to rescue me, dude. You think it’s not a predominantly male cut throat business where I’ve been?”
“Paul says it’s cursed, baby; come on, don’t be difficult.”
“Cursed,” she muttered while shaking her head. “A wise man would think about that before kissing me again.”
“Not you. The house. The land. Not you, Tessa. Not your love life.”
“You’ve been extremely successful since you left here, jotted off to the university and then corporate America. Work, work, work, that’s all you do now. How many jobs do you take on at one time by consulting too? And all those conventions and travel? Then you fight in the cyberwar at night, Tess. You make sure you don’t leave any time open to fall in love. That’s a choice, babe, not a curse.”
“Is that what you call it, Mr. Enterprising? Since I battled in a siege here, there is a firewall around me that won’t shutdown no matter what I try.”
Her unhackable heart? No he had not forgotten about it. No more than he’d forgotten she was walking away from here into a new career in yet another city in a few short days.
He sat down next to her on the front steps. “You made time to talk with me though, Tessa. You’ve chatted with me, breaking your own rules, almost every day for the last three months. I’m in your head, you let me in this time. You don’t work with me; you don’t go by the same rules as you do the dudes you work with. You don’t see me like that.”
“Please don’t remind me, Glenn. I don’t need a reminder of how much I want to pull off your flipping clothes. Thanks for that.”
He laughed. “You’re welcome.”
She held out her hand. “Give me my gun back now please. I’m not returning to town tonight. If I tuck tail and run from here, it will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
“Don’t you manage to find enough trouble, like wanting to blow up a cave, without your gun? I don’t want to give it back right now if you intend to stay out in the sticks. You scared me to death upstairs, woman. I don’t want that demon taking root in your head again. I have no intentions of chasing your ghost!”
“Ah, another invitation to come take it? I like challenges.”
He stood up and walked over to his truck, not answering her with words but with action as he opened his glove box and sat the gun inside. She’d followed him, leaning in next to him at the side of the truck. He heard her gasp when she saw inside his glove compartment. He’d brought it to show her later tonight after her ghosts were all gone. He snatched the diary out and a flashlight before turning toward her. “I’ll make you a deal.”
“If you aren’t thinking about burning down the house, and burning this too, then take it. Read it while we are camping out here, instead of telling ghost stories. Remember how much you did once believe in love. You didn’t burn it out of you; life doesn’t work that way.”
She wanted it, her green eyes trained on the scorched hardback cover holding her handwritten secrets from long ago. When he had mentioned love though, she had closed her eyes. She cleared her throat. “I told you, keep it, burn it, bury it. I don’t care. I’m not her anymore. No deal.”
Glenn kept it in his hand and pulled a blanket from under the backseat. He strode over to her side yard and shook open the blanket. He stretched out with the book under his head, staring at the stars. She wanted it. She would come for it. He pondered the Grand Design of the universe, waiting for her to make her move. No way he’d let her destroy it. It had been his for the last ten years.
“Damn man,” she growled, “baiting me.” She paced back and forth in the front yard, her brain probably plotting how, breaking it down faster than her long lean legs pumped. Tick tap. Tick tap. Tick tap.
Great, she wasn’t even within arms reach but still she teased him. He thought of some of the other ways she teased him written by her own hand. If he wasn’t careful, things would get out of hand. He wanted his hands on her. “Need a little help here, God.”
Tessa grumbled. “I’m not coming over there on that blanket with you to strip off your clothes, Glenn.”
“That wasn’t really the kind of help I was hoping for, God.”
She laughed, holding up her cell phone. “I have a signal, unbelievable.” By only the light of the moon, she punched in text, sending messages without talking on the phone.
After about ten minutes of her sending and receiving, and him wishing she was sharing with him, Glenn rolled to his feet. He carried the flashlight, not that she seemed to need it, into the front side yard where she paced.
“Ha ha ha,” she said smugly to him and turned off her phone. “Come daylight, dude, time to close the door on my past.”
Before he could ask her what that was supposed to mean, his cell rang from his truck. Three a.m. and the ringtone identified it as a caller unknown to Glenn. He looked at Tessa who was grinning at him, dimples winking at him. He looked toward the truck and his cell. A call in the middle of the night? Something might be wrong.
He shook his head and walked toward his truck. Before he even picked up, he saw Tessa run for the diary. “Don’t even think about it, babe,” he warned her, ignoring the phone and running into the side yard.
She ran to the blanket and scooped up her diary and then her long legs kicked in and she increased her speed, running from him, and laughing.
He ran after her, tackling her, spinning around in the wet night dew to land under her. He wrapped his legs around her waist and pulled her wrists to the ground on either side of his head.
“Get off me,” she demanded.
“Not that I’m nitpicking about positions, but you are the one on top of me.”
“Let me go then. Cease and desist.”
“I like it. Don’t you, or is destroying that diary all you can focus on?” He continued when she shut her eyes, shutting him out. “RTFM and I did. I wanted you to remember, to know how strongly you believe in love. How about we go over to the blanket, get the flashlight, and I’ll read it to you.”
She groaned and the tenseness in her body shifted energy to sexual tension. “That would not be wise. There’s a lot of other stuff in there. I’d be stripping off your clothes for sure then even if this place does creep me out.”
An inky black blurr zipped into the side yard; solidifying into the six foot shadowman she had called Shadow tonight. The same shadowman that shoved Glenn twice tonight upstairs. As skewed as cameras here from so long ago, equally invasive by listening, the shadowman stood with hands down to his sides and watched them.
Glenn rolled, taking her under him, in case the shadowman would try to shove her this time, shove her off of Glenn. That thing had held out its hand to her. It seemed happy she was here. It followed her outside of the house now, ready to tag along wherever she thought to go next. It was of course male, a shadowman. Damn.
Her sultry green eyes as inviting as a steamy spring stared into his after he rolled her under him. Her hands slipped under his shirt, up to his chest, and back down. She had not seen Shadow if the movements of her body rubbing against his were any indication. She was gonna freak out if she saw him. Not only creepy, but the ultimate privacy stealer. She about freaked out if you tried to take her picture, an expert at blocking the shot with her hand.
He shut his eyes and groaned at what she was doing to him. When he opened his eyes, the shadowman lifted one finger at him. Glenn settled his hands on her hips, thinking to still her so he could think, but he pulled her closer and groaned again. That’s right, he thought toward the six foot silhouette; I’m not Sam. Glenn wondered if the shadowman was telepathic. Shadow wouldn’t need to be after seeing her with him.
“Mmm, Tessa,” he whispered against her lips. “Nice and easy, babe.” He succeeded in holding her hips still. “Tilt your head back and look in front of us.”
She grinned at him and complied. Then she laughed. “What?”
“God, help me,” he muttered looking where she was looking with her head back, neck arched, eyes scanning the tall grasses. She couldn’t see Shadow. Glenn could. Hard to miss, a six foot inky black silhouette of a man standing there now about three feet from their heads. It was intelligent.
If this thing was a jealous ghost playing a role like a poltergeist, then it should be plenty provoked by now. It had not attacked Glenn again and he was doing more than holding her hand, proclaiming without words this time that she belonged to him now. Surely this wasn’t porn for the shadowman? Glenn did not want to research it.
She laughed and tilted her head up toward him, her laughter breathing into his ear. She looked happy to see him, soft and playful. “Tell me,” she whispered near his ear. “Tell me what you want, Glenn.”
Mean, not funny, he thought knowing God could read it. Stop the temptation before I take her right here in the grass under the stars with a shadowman watching us.
She lifted her mouth from him and turned her head to the right of them where tall grasses rustled, foliage moving about, as if invisible people, ghosts, gathered. Along with the wind, a whisper of voices swayed in the weeds.
“Tell me you heard that too, Tessa.”
He looked down at her and she was spooked now, but she shook her head. “It’s the wind, Glenn. The wind. A trick of the wind.”
“If it makes you feel better, if it’s what helped you survive out here instead of losing your mind, then keep thinking it.”
“I heard it, dude. I can hear it. I can feel them watching sometimes. The house you mentioned that was burned down on purpose, when I’d go and dig out a few flowers, the wind plays tricks and whispers like that too. And sometimes in the cave where there really isn’t any wind to try and explain it away.”
He pulled her to her feet, holding one of her hands and about as intimate as it gets, her diary, in the other.
“I’m creeped out now, too weird for me, let’s go back inside and turn on all the lights. Help me, Glenn, find Sam’s stash. I don’t want that left here for the next owners.”
“Can you say temptation, Tessa, just to put a big bud in your hand or mine? Now that’s something Sam did a damn fine job in, growing killer weed.”
She waved her hand in a broad direction. “I don’t care who harvests for him. If the deer get it all, then it’ll be a wild hunting season around here this year. The most bizarre things happen out here. Maybe another panther will come.”
“I think you might be misunderstanding me. We won’t start this off, this thing between us, falling back on getting high. We’ve been there and done that and moved on. I’m serious about you, Tessa; that’s right I said serious. If you are serious about me, then you won’t get stoned because you put it in your diary several times how unwise it is to try and build a real foundation on that . . . not unless you plan to stay stoned to stay with him. I’m not him.”
“Not to smoke, silly man. I have a big tryout which is unclear if tests will be taken to see if I’m clean. I am clean. And I’ve made a deal with a friend. I need to find that pot.”
“What kind of deal did you make?”
.“Don’t provoke the entities. Shhh. I don’t intend for either of us to get hurt. Don’t let this house stir up either of us.” She turned to him on the front porch, tilting her head. “So you are tempted . . . me too. I don’t want that with you.”
“What do you want with me, Tess?”
She laughed as bold green eyes raked him from head to toe. “I’m not touching that one.”
Even before she walked inside, she stuck her hand around the corner and flicked on the lights.
He teetered on a fine line of hopeful determination between denial and faith.
He grabbed her hand and turned her toward him. “I mean it, woman, I need to know. What do you want from me, with me? The way you looked at me, okay it was bold and hot, but is that all you want of me? You walked away from this area once. It’ll ruin it if we spend the next four days and nights in bed, and you don’t give me more of yourself than that.”
She tossed up her arms. “Yeah, I do this every day.”
“I asked you not an hour after we took off from Haven to tell me your secrets and I’ll tell you mine. You’ve had any number of times to bring it up, so why can’t you lay it down to me? Hot sex with you and then you go? It’ll tear me up when you leave this time.”
She pointed at the scorched hardback cover in his hand. “I don’t want you reading that to me. I don’t want you reading it at all, but from the looks of it, it’s too late for that. What kind of jerk reads somebody’s diary?”
“I’m not talking about your diary. What kind of jerk burns their diary?” He tucked it in the back waistband of his jeans. “Now, tell me something truthful. Something real. Something else scary, Tessa, about now; something you would trust with someone who would do everything within his power to protect you. Do you have anything you’d like to tell me?”
"You won’t like it. I don’t want to bring you in range of that kind of trouble.”
He smoothed one hand down her back and then back up. Tell me, he tried to send her the vibe. Tell me, Tess.
“I’d tell you, Glenn, but then I’d have to kill you.” She winked at him. “There’s no trouble that I can’t take care of, okay? No reason to involve you in my secrets.”
He slid his hand into the top of her shirt, snagging the chain of USBs. He slid his finger up and down her throat. “Don’t even think about playing the dumb M.O. with me, lady. You are many things, but stupid is not one of them. Tell me you don’t have the code hanging around your lovely neck. Because that would be stupid, and you aren’t stupid just reckless.”
“Well when you put it like that, you make it sound like a bad thing. It’s close, handy, ready and available if I need it. I’m no reckless hack.”
When he continued to stare into her eyes, showing her how patient he could be, she growled and then added, “Like you really need any association with me? It’ll bring the Russian mob and the leader of the cyber-terror revolution down on Haven, on you. Don’t stand next to me, Glenn, and blip on his radar. He wants my hat in all the shades of gray but mostly black. He wants the worm that would reverse-engineer the patch on his insulin pump. He’s been sending me roses, like a bunch. But his mind and heart are dark, twisted, evil. Feel better now?”
“Yori Korskovf, the head of the flipping Russian mafia, is sending you flowers? Thank you for sharing, Tessa, but I can’t say I feel better now. I knew he put a price on your head; didn’t know you patched his pump or about you having that code. But I know you can hack a heart, a pacemaker. So why not an insulin pump?”
“You didn’t get any of that from ancient history in a ten year old diary. How do you know about him at all?”
“You told me a black hat headhunter was seriously trying to recruit you. And Cole told me who that black hat was.”
She flicked on more lights, searching out the places she seemed to suspect were the same as they once had been, looking for Sam’s stash. “I find it disturbing you talk about me with Cole. It’s hard to keep anything private from him, believe me. That dude is wicked slick trouble, an uber hacker. I guess he can crack into anything if he wants answers. God help me if he ever really gets curious.”
“What if he once upon a time laid out a substantial investment on brand new technology like those pen-sized web cams that were once hiding in the ceiling tiles in every room but upstairs?”
She growled. “I hope I don’t put the hurt to Cole now. He’s said as much as he surfed off my shoulder. I chose not to shoot the others, see how much I’ve grown? I even have a piece of paper declaring my hat is white. But I hate cameras and nowadays eye in the sky is everywhere collecting images and information about me, about you, about all of us. I won’t believe privacy is a lost cause; I’ll fight for it.”
She had shared a secret, he would return the favor. “He used to broadcast you, babe. Once you knew Big Brother was watching you up close and personal, and you had decided to fight, you used to tease him mercilessly. He moved the broadcast but shared it with me, the dude with the sound, so I know you held a joint to the camera asking him to toke, spitting in the eye of the law again and again.”
“That was then. This is now. I’m much wiser, not nearly so sweet. It ruined me. I’m a security freak now.” She lifted her shirt and pointed at the USBs with a frown, but her belly ring winked at him when the light caught the dangles.
“You don’t look ruined to me. You look like a hot hacker chick. I believe your hat is gray tinted white by noble intent. What do you intend to do about Yori Korskovf?”
The shadowman had followed her back inside, spying on them for he didn’t know how long before Glenn saw him.
Tessa bent to open a cushioned lid off a footstool in the living room. “I can’t find Sammy’s smoke. Kinda need it, a little barter power.” She swung her arm toward another room. “Trust me, Sam wasn’t dry. It’s here and I’ve made a deal. Help me.”
“I’m not the one who can help you. Try praying.”
“Fine. Go to Cole. Do it!”
“Now you’re giving me the willies. I’m not bouncing back and forth between you and your buddy.”
“He’s not just my buddy. We have the same mom. I was raised with him my whole life. He’s my older brother. He’s also hunting your hat, Tessa, your ability to hack hearts. If you aren’t going to trust me so I can keep you safe, then go to him dammit. He’s the one who hunts that kind of ghost. He’ll keep you safe until tryouts. He’s DHS now, Tess, and you will be too if you take the job.”
“No, no, oh hell no.” She shook her head and then snagged several big bags of pot out of the hiding place. She didn’t touch the baggies with her fingers, instead she used the edge of her shirt. “Why didn’t you tell me he was your brother? That it’s no gig with Big Brother but with Homeland Security!”
“I’m telling you now. You’re still ahead of the game; other certified government ethical hacks showing up will be equally as ticked. I’m sure some of them will not be happy to be mired in all those shades of gray with DHS.”
Upstairs, be it the wind blowing in the front windows that had exploded hours earlier, or an entity trying to scare them, scuffles shoved across the floor, scooting around like furniture. The shadowman was not in sight.
Tessa stuck the loot in her shirt, holding up the front to form a pouch. A sound strangled in her throat as gooseflesh rose up along her arm like something cold touched her. The shaky breath she exhaled showed a quick stream of frost in front of her pretty lips. “Shadow?”
Like she had turned up a dimmer, the inky black silhouette formed into dark substance, as if a man stood beside her in the dark.
She held out her hand to Glenn. “Let’s go now.”
“Why didn’t you tell me Medatron’s owner, who makes Hitler look sane, wants you dead or alive? Hmm? Why didn’t you tell me you had named a very special admirer from the shadowland? These are important details for a man after your unhackable heart.”
“Clearly, you all ready know! Please take my hand so he knows for sure you are friend and not foe.”
“He knows. Count on it.” Glenn did clasp her hand, and tugged her to the fireplace mantel. He reached toward the clock there and a joint he’d seen earlier next to it. He slid it in-between their closed hands, as her other hand still held up her shirt, holding a sizeable haul.
“Please put it in your pocket. I’ll offer it to David.” She pulled him toward the door.
He slipped it from their hands into his back pocket. “Who’s David, the dude you made the deal with?”
“We climb together, hike. We do other things where it’s equally important to leave no trace and no trail that we’ve been there.”
Glenn frowned. “You hack with him.”
“Didn’t I say that? We go to conventions together too. He’s no reckless hacker either; don’t make the mistake of judging him on appearance.”
Off in the distance, he could hear thumping on the air even before he saw a helicopter. There was nowhere to land here, woods or cornfields, landscaping equipment strewn all over the yard. Cops running a night search for drugs to run their equipment and looking near Sam Kendall’s old stomping grounds? He hadn’t even toked with her and paranoia tapped across his brain. This is one of the reasons he’d given it up.
“That’ll be him now.”
The helicopter hovered over her side yard, a rope ladder unrolling from the open door. A man with a backpack, swung wildly to and fro as the rotating blades created a windstorm. He reached the bottom of the ladder and jumped the last couple feet to the ground. Another man climbed down the ladder, but when the ladder swung to show Glenn the climber’s profile, he realized this one was female.
Tessa let go of his hand and ran toward who must be David. He pulled off his backpack and she dumped the contents from her shirt, Sam’s stash, into the pack.
David handed it up to the woman on the rope ladder after she handed him the backpack in her hand. The woman climbed back up into the helicopter. The rope pulled up and the helicopter swung off toward the east and the first kiss of dawn.
Glenn stopped gaping and marched over to Tessa and the guy who was hugging her. When he stepped next to her, she slid her arm around his waist. “Glenn, this is David. David, this is Glenn.”
The young man who appeared not to have shaved in days held out his hand. But when Glenn shook his hand, David asked, “Why didn’t you take my call?”
“I don’t know you. I didn’t give you my unlisted number. Why would you call me?”
David shrugged one shoulder and grinned. “It’s an affliction, dude, all hackers are born with a little too much inquisitiveness. I wanted to social engineer you. After Tessa’s texts, I had to find out who was making her this crazy.”
Glenn turned her to him. “What just happened with the smoke and the backpacks?”
She smiled at him and the full force of her happiness aimed at him twisted his gut. “Hacking hearts has to have some perks.”
He blew out a shaky exhale. “Whose heart did you hack besides mine?” Glenn pointed at David. “His?”
David laughed. “I knew it.”
Tessa stared intently into his eyes as if she was trying to verify the fine print of his heart with the words out of his mouth. She slicked her tongue over her bottom lip. “There’s a whole team of tigers who protect a senator’s heart. We make sure no one hacks his heart, his pacemaker made by Medatron and Yori.”
David picked up the backpack. “So the helicopter was a little like a seizure, no one arrested, a deal, a trade off for the greater good. Where else did you think she would come up with C4?”
“Tessa,” Glenn growled. “Please, God, make her tell me she isn’t planning to seal off the portal to another dimension in that cave by brute force.”
She shrugged. “I don’t understand why you do that. You don’t think He’s going to answer, right?”
“I do, babe. That’s the way it works, keep talking to Him like he’s your best bud. Sometimes the answer isn’t the one I wanted, or the timetable I wanted it in, but He answers. That’s one of the obstacles standing between us. You have to believe again, Tessa. I’m not the only one trying to get past the firewall around your heart.”
David hitched his thumb at Glenn but nodded at Tessa. “He sounds serious about you.”
Tessa broke eye contact and turned to David. “There’s a computer in the house. I’ll get it and we’ll setup in the cave.” She turned back to Glenn. “We’ll have some fun; make a haha video about how to destroy data on a hard drive.”
Although she started walking to the house, David following her, Glenn exhaled hard and cocked his fists on his hips. She truly intended to blow up the cave! There was a ton of ghost hunting equipment in the house. He’d better go after her before she burned down the house too! She still believed she could burn out the parts of her that she wanted to get rid of. This was not what he intended when he asked her if she could go all the way, hardcore, bump in the night at this eerie place.
On his way after her, the rolled cigarette in his back pocket flashed across his mind. He could mellow them all out and stop her impetuous flight into foolishness by using foolishness. He could drop David’s guard too and social engineer him to find out where the dude stood regarding Tessa. More temptation. Great.
If he pulled a little brute force himself, he could put her in the seat beside him and drive off from here in his truck. That would put an end to her plan to detonate a computer as well as a cave. He had no doubt whatsoever though, it would put the shadowman on her path on the way out of here.
Her secret admirer from the shadowland? Oh Shadow would follow her. “Don’t confuse him, Tess,” Glenn muttered. “He knows and maybe accepts my claim on you.”
David yelled, cursed, and ran out of the house. Tessa followed him out the front door, hauling her ancient computer tower. She nodded at David, but spoke to Glenn. “David met Shadow. He didn’t know before my text tonight that I once lived in a haunted house. It’s not really something I share with anyone.”
Glenn pulled out the joint and held it toward David. “If you think you can handle this place, the curse on the land, with full-on paranoia. They are watching. They are listening. They are out to get you. She’s not wanting another stoner; go ahead so she can mark you off the list.”
David shook his head. “This is mean, Tessa, not funny.”
Although Glenn tried to take the CPU from her arms, she didn’t hand it over and continued in her march toward the cave. She said, “I’m sorry, David. You haven’t even got to the mean part yet. We were misled by the recruiter at DefCon. Tryouts lead to a trapdoor outside a welcoming mat to the Department of Homeland Security.”
David cursed again. Then he held out his hand to Glenn. “Give me that weed. Too much has happened too fast since I dropped down from the helicopter with C4 for Tessa.”
“Too much too fast?” She snorted. “I hear that.” She cocked her head toward Glenn. “Take a look at this dude up close and personal.”
“You better believe I checked him out. Want his social security number and the rest of his unlisted phone numbers?” David laughed. He turned toward Glenn.
Glenn did not like the way the man was looking at him, like David had all ready gotten high and was checking out Glenn as a possible munchie. He did not like having his privacy invaded either. Tessa wouldn’t do it herself, but would she have some dude try to prank him now?
She sat the computer on a rocky ledge outside the cave. She cracked off the side panel and pulled out the hard drive. She sat the hard drive on the top of the CPU. “Okay, so where all do you think it’s best to setup the C4? Structural integrity . . . the back walls of the cave or the front for cave-in? I want to destroy a lot more than data.”
She glanced at Glenn as if ready to weigh in his answer. He snorted. “Just because all good old country boys have a few guns doesn’t mean I’ve ever played around with that stuff. This is not necessary, babe. This is crazy! You need to get some sleep, be prepared, because we will hunt out your ghosts tonight. We won’t stop tonight no matter what. You won’t be packing heat. Give me another day, another night, Tessa.”
David laughed, but shook his head. “Where did you find this guy? Hacks, hunts ghosts, designs landscapes?”
Tessa smiled at Glenn. “I know, like a special order, right?”
David pointed at Glenn. “What are you doing in the invisible realm of Podunk?” Then David pointed at Tessa. “She likes the city, thinks she’s invisible there.”
They all three turned toward the shadowman as it appeared in the darkness of the cave. Shadow lifted one finger from the side of his head as if where an ear would be on a human and then waved that finger toward the side wall of the cave.
David groaned. “That thing isn’t trying to communicate with us, right?”
Glenn stepped closer to Tessa, putting his arm around her waist. “He is.” And while Glenn tried to figure out what the shadowman was trying to convey, David cursed once more.
The younger man jumped to his feet and ran toward Tessa. “Hurry! Put down the C4. Yori and his men are coming through the woods along the outside of the cave.” David grabbed a brick and timer.
Tessa turned to Glenn. “Go back to your truck and get my gun. Please, Glenn.” She turned and set another brick and timer in a natural shelf in the rock at the back side of the cave.
Glenn grabbed hold of her elbow, pulling her before tugging on the back of David’s t-shirt. “Both of you, let’s go!” He hustled Tessa out of the cave, running with her toward the truck. He held up his cell phone and pushed to dial. “Korskovf and five men with guns are out here. If you want him, brother, come get him.”
David didn’t slow his strides as he scooped his backpack off the ground. As he ran, he pulled out a notebook computer. He hopped up in the back of the truck. “What kind of screwed up network is this?”
“Ghosts run the show and the router; it comes and goes. This crappy network is how I met Glenn.” She had reached into the glove compartment for her gun. “We can’t count on assassinating him with code.”
“Hold on,” Glenn barked as he started his truck and grabbed the gun from her hand.
Dut dut dut a machine gun tapped holes into the radiator and buried in the engine block. The truck shut off.
“Get down!” Glenn tried to pull her in with him through the open passenger door. He’d meant for her to hide below the dashboard, but she jumped in the back with David and reached under her shirt for her purple USB.
A cloud of dark smoke mushroomed from the direction of the cave.
He looked toward the woods to see if men with guns and the Russian cyber-terrorist walked out of it.
Tiny pieces of rock rained down around them before the zing of a bullet screamed from the trees to hit the large white propane tank next to the house.
The tank exploded, raining fire down upon the roof. One side of the house caught into an instant blaze.
Through the wall of fire and smoke, Glenn could not see into the woods anymore. He jumped out of the truck and pressed her gun back into her hand. “Be ready.”
He ran for the house, ignoring the ghost hunting equipment inside, straight past a wall of flames to his left, straight for the DSL line coming into her house and the router. He rebooted the router, banging his fist on it. “Come on.” He swung it around to face out the window.
He dashed back outside where the connections entered the house and yanked open the cover, no equipment to check it, but it wouldn’t be the first time one of her spooks tweaked the hardline. He wiggled the line, pressing it tighter into the switch. Nothing happened to the router. He dashed back inside. The router flashed with signs of life.
As he ran back out, holding one hand over his nose, eyes watering, he hoped Tessa could cut off the head and therefore kill all the snakes coming for her.
Tessa had traded David the gun for his notebook as if the silly woman counted on him to fix the problem like he used to so many times in the past. Her purple USB flashed, antenna pointed at the wall of fire, aimed in the direction where he had first seen the Russian.
A heavily accented male voice called, “It doesn’t have to be like this, Tessa.”
“It does,” she yelled back. “Better pray now, Yori.”
On the far side of billowing smoke and fire, a bearded man, skin sooty and scorched, held up a sniper’s rifle. One broken, crushed, and wilted white rose hung from his front suit pocket. “You’ve proven challenging to find.”
David stood in the truck bed, both hands on the pistol, arms locked in front of him, aiming at Korskovf.
Yori lowered the rifle, clutching at his stomach. He dropped the weapon altogether, lifting his shirt and tapping the readout on his insulin pump.
The gun in David’s hand barked fire, bullet passing Yori to land into another man in black clothing coming around the wall of flames. The second man folded back onto the ground, bullet planted in his skull. “FPS, the only way to learn.”
Yori stumbled another step before he fell to his knees. “Fix it,” he screamed at Tessa.
“I did,” she stated quietly.
As Korskovf clutched at his chest, another helicopter dropped men from ropes, from the same place as the helicopter had earlier. Blood gurgled and trickled from the corner of the Russian’s mouth before dripping down his dark brown beard. He grabbed his chest with his other hand but fell face forward into the grass.
As Cole came near them and other men ran toward Yori, Glenn watched Tessa click her fingernail down on the USB. The flickering device disappeared, vanished as if it were invisible! Cole held out his hand. “Give me the code, Tessa. This will be hell to explain away.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know what you are talking about. Do you see it anywhere?”
Impatient, he hooked one finger at the bottom of her shirt and lifted it. He dropped it back into place. “Where is the purple USB?”
“Don’t be doing that ever again, brother,” Glenn warned him.
“Ten,” David said to her.
“We’re not working for DHS,” she told Cole.
Cole turned to Glenn and lifted one dark eyebrow. “I thought I was telling her?”
Glenn swung his arm toward the burning house and the two dead men. “Too late. I did it for you. Now do something for me. Get us out of here before she still ends up tangled in shades of gray with Homeland Security.”
“That would great,” she agreed.
“Twenty,” David growled.
Cole pointed at David. “Who are you?”
“No one for DHS to get curious about and whip out the Patriot Act.”
Glenn stared at Tessa and the purple USB flickered back into sight for a half-heartbeat still plugged into the port on the notebook. As quick as he’d seen it, it vanished again.
“Okay,” Cole agreed as fire engine sirens screamed in the distance.
As a cloud of dust rose up from the gravel road, indicating vehicles neared the house, Tessa reached her hand where no USB showed, but still yanked at something in the port. She slid her hand back under her shirt.
“Close,” David muttered at her.
Glenn reached into the truck bed for her.
Cole turned back to him and nodded at the house. “Guess she wasn’t done burning your expensive equipment.”
“Guess not. In case you didn’t notice, my truck is out of commission too.”
“I’m sorry, Glenn,” she said with a groan before brushing her lips across his cheek. “I’ll make it up to you.”
“Yeah?” he asked her, lifting one eyebrow toward her.
A paramedic walked over to Glenn. “Let me see those burns.”
When he sat in the back of an ambulance, and the paramedic had turned away, Glenn leaned over to Tessa who sat next to him. He lifted her shirt and checked. Sure enough, four USBs, including the purple one. Cole had all ready checked her; he wouldn’t be doing so again. “How did you do that?”
She brushed one hand through his smoky hair. “Did you see it glitch out there? I thought it might not make it thirty seconds.” She laughed. “Prototype. Beta. Need I say more?”
“The senator is a strong supporter for the scientists studying invisibility. Call it a perk for letting him know his heart could be hacked.”
“Tessa,” Glenn started before shaking his head. “How many other honeynets of trouble do you have your hand in? Will there be yet another man coming after you?”
“No. I’ll put my hand in helping you hunt the ghosts on this land. I’m sorry I blew up your theory and the portal. I intended to remove your equipment from the house before I toasted it. Do you still want to hack my heart?”
“I want you to give it to me.” He reached around into his waistband and pulled out her decade old scorched diary. He placed it in her hands. “RTFM, darlin’.”
Cole walked over to them. He hitched a thumb over his shoulder at the waiting sedan. “David is in the car. Ready, Tessa? I’ll ride to the hospital with you, little brother.”
She stood and leaned forward. She brushed her lips across his cheek again. “Goodbye, Glenn.”
“Hold on there, woman,” Glenn said as panic kicked at his breastbone. “That sounded kinda permanent.”
Cole pointed at her. “She has to go. Go, Tessa Kendall, or do you want to wait until someone else shows up from DHS to ask questions? I want to talk to you later about a career in medical security not involving Homeland Security. I’ll find you.”
She snorted. “I’m sure you’ll try.” She shot Glenn a lopsided smile and nodded at him. With diary in hand, she walked over to the sedan and climbed in.
Six hours later, after Glenn was released from the ER, Cole drove him to the hotel. Tessa had checked out. She and David had disappeared. If she had ghosted completely, the silence would drive Glenn crazy.
So far today, her house was a total loss. The cave had blown open, a crumbled cave-in. His truck, his ghost hunting equipment, his buddy’s equipment all destroyed.
His cell rang. Glenn swallowed hard when he saw his friend and demonologist’s number. The other ghost hunters were awaiting word from him. They were not going to be happy. Glenn answered, “Reston.”
Paul wasted no time. “Didn’t you tell me that Tessa is a pen tester?”
“Uh, yeah. How come you’re asking again?”
“I’ve checked with everyone on the team. Each of us have a ten thousand dollar deposit as of an hour ago.”
Glenn raked one hand down his face. She had handed out $120,000? “Equipment. She did blow the cave and then the house turned into toast.”
“I see. Did the shadowman follow her?”
“Hell if I know,” Glenn admitted. “Guess you guys can hit the road until we get more equipment.”
“No way. We’re going out there to take the curse off the land. You know as well as I do, entities don’t work within our dimensions. They can still leave through a natural battery in the land even if we can’t see the cave as it was.”
“I’ll see you tonight then,” Glenn agreed. He hung up and turned to Cole in the Government Issue vehicle. “We’re returning to the house before dark.”
“Great.” Cole parked the vehicle outside of Glenn’s house. He held up his hand with the long scratches. “I hope she got rid of this one.”
“I’m more concerned about the one she calls Shadow.” As Glenn walked toward his front door with Cole, he pushed in her cell number. The phone rang and then kicked over to an error message. She had disconnected. “I hate it when she does this. Tessa ghosted.”
“She’s cooling her heels somewhere. I saw the way she was looking at you; she’s not gone completely invisible. Did you know David was gay? He asked if I was.”
Glenn felt a little better, not much. He stopped at his computer and checked his banking accounts. She’d deposited four times what he’d quoted her on landscaping, plus enough to cover new ghost hunting equipment as well as a new truck. He was going to kill her when he found her.
He walked toward his bedroom and then headed toward the shower in a connecting room. The hair lifted off the back of his neck as he caught the six-foot silhouette of a man out of the corner of his eye. Glenn turned his head to follow it. Sure enough, that was Shadow.
Glenn groaned. “God help me.” He cocked his hands on his hips and nodded at the shadowman. “Have you seen Tessa?”
Shadow pointed toward a connecting room.
Glenn swung open the connecting door, steam hitting him in the face, hearing water pounding in the shower. A towel disappeared over the top as he saw through the blur of glass at the woman wrapping up. She slid open the door and smiled at him.
“Hi, honey. You’re home.” She laughed and then sniffed the air. “You smell like . . . hero.”
“I thought you’d split again.”
“I couldn’t do it.”
“Because Shadow followed you?”
“Shadow didn’t follow me, silly man. But I do want to finish all that. Think there’s a way?”
Glenn settled his hands on her bare shoulders. He reached his sooty hand to rub a strand of her wet hair. “What are you doing here, Tessa? Not that I’m complaining mind you, to walk in and find you naked in my shower.”
“I’m crazy about you, Glenn. I’m serious about you. I used to pray there was a guy out there like you.”
“Tessa,” he leaned down to brush his lips over hers. “I love you too.”
She slid the corners of his shirt up, before sliding it off his head. “Good. It’s looking bad for you, dude. You ever try to hide from a security freak? It scares me how much I love you.”
“I like to be scared. Sometimes.”
“Okay, try this one. I can work remotely with the scientists studying invisibility. There’d be some travel but—“
“Are you serious? You’re walking into another hotbed of trouble. You are not invisible, Tessa.”
“I like not to invisible, sometimes, Glenn. What do you say? Want to RTFM to me? Want me to stick around?”
“Yes, Tessa. I say yes.” He slid his fingers down to the towel wrapped around her. “Oh yes.”
Happily Ever Afters!